Six Pixels of Separation - The Blog
May 19, 2011 4:58 PM

It's A Great Icebreaker

How useful is Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms when it comes to actual relationships?

Well, if Malcolm Gladwell didn't get this conversation all riled up last October (see: Small Change - why the revolution will not be tweeted), the value of Twitter, Facebook and other Social Media platforms in building true relationships is brewing up all over again. While, in this instance, it's not as important as toppling regimes, it seems like The New York Times has a slew of commentary from different writers on the depth and value that comes from our social graphs online and how it can't be compared to pressing the flesh in-person. Take these three different perspectives from the newspaper on the topic:

  1. Best Wishes Turn Middling.
  2. The Twitter Trap.
  3. Does Facebook Help or Hinder Offline Friendships?

It's not that big of a deal.

Prior to the Internet, parents spent their time complaining in newspapers and magazines and on TV and radio about how their kids were loosing touch with reality because they were spending too much time talking on the phone to their friends rather than meeting up with them in person. I'm sure there were plenty of people who figured that publishing books would make us spend too much time alone as well. The problem with all of these silly comparisons is that these statements are based on a world when these newer forms of communication and content didn't exist. Old values rarely understand newer innovations.

Social Media is an amazing icebreaker.

This is where Gladwell got it right: Social Media is an amazing enabler of weak connections. What we - as human beings - do with those connections (either strengthening them or keeping them at arm's length) is our own doing. Where Gladwell (and many of the other people who think that it's the end of humanity because we now wish our friends a Happy Birthday via Facebook instead of ringing their doorbells) got it wrong is: all strong ties begin as weak ties. Social Media is not only a great icebreaker, but it enables us to have (and manage) many more weak ties. While some people are just looking to up their numbers in a Machiavellian game of self-esteem, others focus on a small few and build tangible relationships that transcend the pixels. It's fair to say that the more people you meet, the better the opportunity may be to meet people you can really (truly and deeply) connect with.

Think about it this way...

You're a shy person and your boss tells you that you have to attend an industry conference. Not only are you a little introverted, but you don't know one single person who is attending this event. For decades, this was a common occurrence. People would register for the conference and awkwardly stand in the hallway next to the coffee machine hoping to make eye contact with another lonely soul. I've been there. You've been there, too. Now, you can hop on Twitter and tweet: "Hey, anybody going to the conference in Chicago next week? Wanna meet-up?" Not only are you now meeting a whole bunch of people who are going to the same conference as you (and if you don't have a significant following on Twitter, you can do a Twitter Search for the conference and see who else is talking about it and start following/connecting with them), but you now have new people to look forward to meeting and - if you're following and paying attention to what they're tweeting about - you'll actually know something about them too. On countless occasions, this tactic has not only made me feel more confident about attending an event, but I was actually looking forward to meeting all of these new connections to see where they could lead.

Treat it like an icebreaker but take it further.

If Twitter were nothing more than a tool to help you meet new people, it would be awesome enough. The truth is that what you do with it beyond that point is where the true value lies. When people complain that wishing someone a Happy Birthday on Facebook takes a little bit of our soul away, what they fail to focus on is that without Facebook or Twitter even the smallest "Happy Birthday" wish may never happen... and sometimes, just those nice, little pings in life can be more than enough. Most of us could all use a little more time to nurture those weaker connections. I, for one, love the fact that Social Media facilitates those special kinds of real interactions between real people. It's amazing how those real interaction can often lead to lifelong ties that have strength beyond strength.

What do you think?

By Mitch Joel


Comments Comments Feed
  • I couldn't agree more with this. As one of those shy people I can definitely say using social media is a great way to break the ice. I see it as sort of a stepping stone to actual in person communication

    Reply
  • Posted by Gordon White
    Mitch Joel

    Great post Mitch and, some three great support articles; each one makes some interesting points.

    I agree with you, anything that enables you to find more people and, find out about these people, is a good thing. It not only acts as an icebreaker, it allows you to make more informed choices about which real life relationships might be worth pursuing (and which are better left alone).

    Reply
  • Posted by Vasant
    Mitch Joel

    Hi,
    This is such a positive post! Amazing! :) I do agree that social media has brought people close rather than taking them away as some would think strangely!
    It just motivated you through so many different contents on different topics.

    People however shouldn't abuse it by putting too many personal life updates.

    Reply
  • Posted by Melanie
    Mitch Joel

    I totally agree with you Mitch. Several times, people came to me in different occasions, parties, family gatherings, work, etc. and started chatting about something I posted on Facebook or Twitter. I do the same with people I otherwise wouldn't know how to approach!

    Reply
  • Posted by Janghee cho
    Mitch Joel

    I totally agree that social media enriches people's lives and make it more convenient. For example, before I hang out with my friend, I have already known his or her nowadays their situation, so it makes for me easily bind our relationship strongly. However, I prefer off-line meeting. As like, if I can go to my friend house to say HBD, I shall visit my friend house or catch up with them. Although social media sweep all the interesting, the thing is that real humanity is in off-line. We must not ignore the importance of real-world.

    Reply
  • Posted by Liesl
    Mitch Joel

    I absolutely agree that social media helps make weak ties stronger. In much of the material I read on the subject, it annoys me that writers often come back to the stat that you can really only have MEANINGFUL relationships with a community of ~100 people.

    They thus conclude that all those with 200, 500, 1000+ friends or followers don't have meaning in most of their connections. But that's absurd, if the argument is that numbers don't matter how can you argue that somehow ~100 is a "real" number of friends to have, and not all our relationships need to be chock full of meaning. They never have all been meaningful. Some of them are professional, casual, occasional, dormant, a nod to the mailman, and so on. Small or fleeting connections are important, too. Even if you only see a friend once a year, that may be the best conversation you have in 12 months, and social media can help you keep in touch in the interim, thus strengthening an otherwise sporadic friendship.


    A Facebook happy birthday is no emptier a gesture than thanking a bus driver when getting off your stop: it's a brief acknowledgement that takes little time but acknowledges the person. How meaningful the relationship is offline depends on the level of connection, not on the online gesture.

    As what is rather annoyingly called a "Third Culture Kid" who grew up all over the world, I will never have all the people I feel closest to in the same room (and that is increasingly true for all of us, not just TCKs), but I CAN have them all in my feed! It's been a great way for me to unify what had been a somewhat fragmenting (if awesome!) experience growing up in 4 countries on 3 continents, not to mention an amazing way to help forge the wanderlust-minimizing roots I never thought I would sprout. I feel a far greater sense of community because social media helps give all these varying levels of friendship & family ties (from close to distant) much-needed context. The media is the hook I can hang these connections on, giving me greater ability to navigate and understand them all in relation to myself and each other.

    I think what frightens people beyond the "newness" of new media (as you say, whether TV, telephones, radio, any shiny innovative new communications tool) is the idea that it breeds parasocial or one-way delusional relationships, rather than something "real". But Kipling said, "words are the most powerful drug used by man" and if one is going to fear a slippery slope whereby we lose our grasp of reality, as you rightly point out, our beef originates with words: not only books but the very ability to conceive of abstract concepts. And who says "real" needs to be in person, as though reality and virtuality are completely diametrically opposed? Virtuality exists in the real, and projecting oneself is not a phenomenon that began with the overly-flattering profile pic. "I think, therefore I project."

    Social media seems to be turning things around where the medium is no longer the message: the message is, more often than not, actually the message. Just keep feeding us sweet, sweet content, please! And it's interesting that the idea of the network is gaining prominence over the channel. Where it used to be that academics focused on the paradigm created by a specific type of media (e.g. print culture), there are growing studies (e.g. the one you blogged about a while ago: http://www.twistimage.com/blog/archives/social-networking-circa-1750/) where the emphasis is now on connections and points of contact...

    All this points to a society that cares about "real" connections, whether online or off, and understands that transcending the physical world and forging ties are both fundamentally human pursuits, and we're going to use every tool at our disposals to do so. Whether or not mum and dad know how to use them ;)

    Wow... Holy Longform Comment, Batman! (Sorry)

    Reply
  • Posted by Brian T.
    Mitch Joel

    This is a fantastic article! I was just listening to the radio while grabbing some lunch and they mentioned how we as a society are doing things differently than we did before. Social media is here to stay, but with what kind of staying power is the question. In my industry (insurance) many folks are on the dial for numbers game. Does that work?

    I'd much rather make small meaningful relationships that would lead to a lasting relationship than an over the phone telemarketer type relationship. Does that make any sort of sense?

    Reply
  • Twitter has had an incredibly positive impact on my professional continuing education -- I'm still learning how to integrate it with my daily Google Reader. In a few short months I've gone from a little uncertain about the new world of marketing to being an unbearable know-it-all! :)

    But seriously, what a great resource for information and breaking the ice with interesting folks.

    Reply
  • Posted by Bret Simmons
    Mitch Joel

    I am a strong introvert, both in MBTI and Big 5 terms. It is very difficult for me to do large in-person networking events. In the two years I've been blogging and tweeting, I've met more valuable people than at any time in my life. And I'm talking about relationships that started with virtual introductions and have led to phone calls and coffee meetings with people in the city I live in as well as London, New York, Denver, and Vegas. Twitter rocks!

    Reply
  • Posted by Tom Chapman
    Mitch Joel

    A very interesting article, which I agree and slightly disagree with! A tweet or a status update on Facebook can be that icebreaker; a step towards establishing a weak connection, or turning a weak connection into a stronger one.

    The arguments that suggest Social Media as having a negative impact on people's social skills are only modern take on the argument that occurs with each generation.

    But I think there are still plenty of people who would fall into that shy bracket that are still daunted by such a tweet - sometimes I see it as the virtual equivalent of putting your hand up in a room full of strangers. There seems to be an unwritten Tweet Code of Conduct that is essentially common sense, but does take a wile to digest and feel confident enough to take on.

    Reply
Add a Comment

Please complete all the fields below, including the spam filter (to prove you're not a robot).

  1. Fill in your email address to have your Gravatar photo included with your comment.
  2. Please type the word pixels here:
TrackBacks

TrackBack URL: http://www.twistimage.com/movabletype/mt-tb.cgi/2439